St. Martin Village

This afternoon the City's Preservation Board unanimously approved the demolition plan for a number of buildings on the site of the former German Roman Catholic Orphan Home at the end of Dodge Street. The three iconic structures - two dormitory towers and the chapel - will be incorporated into the new St. Martin Village, a 60 unit housing development.

Here's the plan -
click here for larger image
Gary Bichler - R&P Oak Hill Development - and Philip Silvestri - Silvestri Architects - were both on hand to describe the exciting news for the neighborhood and answer a number of questions from Preservation Board members. While final details of the site's parking arrangements drove most of the conversation, everyone present embraced the $15m project. According to Gary, the construction documents are scheduled for a November closing. I asked him about site security - see photo archive - and he promised that once the project closes, the site will be secured.

The project will create 36 new townhouses and 24 apartments in the former dormitory towers. Belmont Management will be the site manager and after a period of 15 years, tenants can purchase their residences.

Yesterday, I spent about an hour walking the site. Doors to all the buildings were still wide open, like they've been for the past four years. Here some pics. Three years ago, Sean Galbraith one of continent's leading urban photographers, created the following site map. It was used in the DK Photo Group's Toronto based show, Orphaned in 2006. This 1915 map shows what's been lost/gained over the years. Here's a link to a number of posts from years past.

Very cool development here in the neighborhood and all things considered, a thoughtful reuse of one of the City's most neglected heritage properties. I'll be tracking progress in the coming months.

Correction (7/27/09 - 5pm): I wrote last week that Belmont Shelter would be involved in the management of St. Martin's, I was wrong. A different agency, Belmont Management will be doing this. I apologize for the confusion that this may have caused.
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smlg.ca said...

Setting down my camera and putting on my planner hat, I'll add some comments regarding the site plan.

First, this appears to be a fantastic project for the site and the neighbourhood. It is great to see the iconic buildings saved, and I won't shed a tear for those that can't survive. The project is too important to let them stand in the way. And being able to purchase their unit is also a good feature.

Specific comments:
1) The garbage enclosure located right next to the sidewalk should, if possible, be relocated internal to the property. Locating it where it currently is sited does not present a good face to the community. The other garbage enclosure also might be a bit far back into the site, requiring the garbage truck to reverse (with beepings) a fair length to get out. I assume reversing truck movements have been taken into account in this design.

2) Are any historic placards or cultural heritage information features being planned for the building? Is any consideration to what used to be there (once demolished) being given to what is being built? For example, naming of buildings based on what it is replacing (Building H - Gymnasium)? Perhaps the grotto on-site could be integrated? Or the faded painted line that used to divide the boys and girls sides of the playground.

3) Will the architecture, colour and materials of the new buildings integrate into the existing building styles?

4) It is unfortunate, though understandable, that so much of the land has to be allocated to parking. Do the spaces allocated to the dwellings include visitor parking?

I appreciate that the preservation of the 3 buildings places constraints on the design of the property overall. Overall, I think this is an admirable plan worthy of the site.

STEEL said...

Horrible horrible site plan. Good to save the buildings but in the long run this kind of thinking damages the city

Anonymous said...

Moving folks from shrinking neighborhoods to places nobody lived when Bflo was over 2X bigger is politically-very-correct.

There are 100's of such housing units being planned everywhere in Bflo. This project was approved unanimously.

Few are asking where the new occupants for the costly units, heavily funded by taxpayers, will move FROM. This is the latest $1/4-million-per-house project that will be massively subsidized by taxpayers, as Bflo neighborhoods continue to quietly empty out.

Housing in a shrinking city with about 25,000 vacancies is less than a zero-sum game. Every new household moved into subsidized "newbuilds" empties an "oldbuild" . . . adding another taxpayer-funded demolition to the costly mix.

I normally agree with you, David, but not on this one. This bound-to-be massively subsidized project is NOT "very cool"!

It is instead "a conspiracy against (struggling" neighborhoods".

Dick Kern

smlg.ca said...

The question of "should it be done" is certainly valid, and important. And is more important than how it would be done. Mr. Kern raises some challenging questions.

STEEL said...

How it would be done is always an important question

smlg.ca said...

Of course it is important. Just in this case, it might not be the most important (or perhaps "fundamental" is a better word) one.

fix buffalo said...


I agree with you about the 'musical chairs' dynamic and the macro issues in this shrinking city regarding housing and the direct connection between new-builds and old-builds.

In this particular case there's a real heritage element that makes this case different.

The alternative here is to allow the CAO to continue in its failed stewardship of the site which would make the eventual renovation of the three heritage buildings increasingly more expensive in the future.

After speaking with the developer yesterday, he explained to me that the project is only viable with 60 units and DHCR stipulates a certain number of parking spots and city code requires emergency vehicle access with a specific turning radius - hence the car/parking lot nightmare. He's also very open to exploring alternative solutions to this problem.

I agree with Sean/smlg regarding cultural heritage elements. I'll make certain to bring a number of these issues to future conversations with Gary.

queens said...

1. How much taxes will this pay? ($0) -- that means everyone else will pay proportionally for this

2. The plan is horrible

3. Belmont continues their ineffective development of East side

fix buffalo said...

Queens and Steel,

Why is this 'horrible'?


Is there another organization, besides Belmont, that has any institutional capacity or management experience to do such work?

sin/ill said...

to fixBuffalo:
Love your updates; BUT- This plan is horrible. We've seen this type development before- housing projects surrounded by "parks" and large grey spaces within. They all fail in what they try to achieve. The green areas actually attract crime, leaving the inhabitants less safe, and are rarely used for what the planners had in mind. High density and and clearly drawn lines between what is 'PUBLIC' and what is 'PRIVATE' is what creates an attractive, livable, and eventually an even more desirable neighborhood.
Since the notion of Urban Renewal came about, we have seen this time and time again (and again). Its time for Buffalo to turn the page. PLease, stop planning for cars, and START PLANNING FOR PEOPLE.

queens said...

The new buildings are fronting on parking, and it is car-centric. The parking pads in front of the new two-plexes on Jefferson and the new-ish row houses west of Niagara St. exemplify loss of fronting greenspace.

Would you want to live here, or next to it?

smlg.ca said...

I agree that the parking along Dodge is far from ideal. The problem, I suspect, is that zoning requires X number of spaces for every unit, and the site plan has to put that parking somewhere. The alternative is to provide less housing on the site, which presumably isn't an attractive option to the owner/developer.

What is public transit availability like in this neighborhood?

STEEL said...

It is horrible because giant parking lots should never be located on city streets. The streets themselves can provide fire lane access like they do for most buildings in the city. It is horrible because there is not architectural space created here, no public space making. The remaining green space is just leftover emptiness filled up with puny shrubs and undersized trees haphazardly placed. It is horrible because the place is designed to park cars instead of a place for people to live. Don't even get me started on the pretend "historic" style.

queens said...

What is on the north and east and west sides of the site plan; does the perimeter fencing extend to the sidewalk on the north with circulation drive adjacent to it?

A more compact site plan could give parking a less overwhelming presence, and be limited to a mini-lot per building. Street parking is good too and costs a lot less; less pavement = less expensive drainage and curbing.

More permeable greenspace gets better energy certification; this has to be LEED certified to get public funds doesn't it?

fix buffalo said...


East/west, there are private residences along two city streets. North of the site is St. Martin's, one of the City's newest Catholic Churches.

It's my understanding that DHCR and the city has imposed certain constraints about cars/parking on this plan.

I'll check into the LEED issue you raise.

Elizabeth said...

Belmont Shelter has nothing to do with this project.

fix buffalo said...


Good talking with you. Sorry again for any confusion that may have caused.

Anonymous said...

First off, perserving the existing structures is great and should be commended.

But the rest of the site is the same failed public housing plan that has been built on the east side for the past 50 years. Who would want to eventually buy into it?

They need to get additional land to creat a thru street to Northhampton along the west side of the property. Then T-off another road into the site behind the existing structures (between power house and kitchen) that dead ends. Place street parking on both sides of the new roads, houses up to them and smaller addition lots behind them and at the dead end.

Will have to buy some more land from the church, but if it gives the church an actual neighbor they would pry be willing.